Pride and Prejudice

Author: Jane Austen
Published: 1813
Website: Wikipedia Page

Pride and Prejudice is a classic work of fiction, and for good reason. The movie (RED FLAG: Judging a book by its movie) led me to believe that it was no more than an upscale version of the “trashy” novels people read at the beach, but that response would be doing it quite an injustice. The story follows the family Bennet in 19th century England, through travails of love, romance, class, poverty and incredibly restrictive social mores. Austen perhaps stumbles the slightest bit in placing the vast majority of character development and social commentary all in Elizabeth Bennet, the main character. However, Elizabeth is such a well-crafted and well-rounded presence that it can be forgiven. Her sarcasm and quick wit are refreshing without being unbelievable, and her fierce devotion to truth, fairness and rationality (a word used a surprising number of times) provide an excellent counterpoint to her loveable elder sister Jane, who is much more optimistic and forgiving, and to the more irritating characters i.e. most of the rest of her family, Mr. Collins (an unsuccessful suitor) and Mr. Bingley (Jane’s eventual husband)’s family, who are frustrating in precisely the way Austen means them to be. Jane is sweet and loving, which we are meant to respect, but not so much as Elizabeth’s keen intelligence, which is contrasted against the most despicable of the annoying characters’ salient features: general idiocy and lack of self-awareness. For all the issues of class (with Elizabeth and her family being of comparatively low class, whereas Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth’s eventual husband and Mr. Bingley are rather wealthy, and with marriage of the daughters being Mrs. Bennett’s apparent sole goal in life), this is a book about the exaltation of the intellect. Grasping, indolent, selfish people are the villains, kind people are permitted to be happy, but in an inferior sort of way, and smart, complicated people are the heroes destined for eternal bliss. That Austen wishes that to be her legacy is clear from the very end of the book, in which Georgiana, Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, is said to learn from the example of Elizabeth, that a wife may be teasing and playful with her husband, even challenging him.

My only complaint is that Austen’s clear gift for dialogue is not put to use in the more emotionally evocative scenes, such as Elizabeth’s profession of love to Mr. Darcy, when Austen switches, for no apparent reason, to prose.

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One Comment to “Pride and Prejudice”

  1. While I might be mistaken, I had thought that the class difference between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet was not so large. Mr Darcy was a gentleman and Elizabeth was the daughter of a gentleman. During that time it was how you got your money rather than how much money you had that mattered.

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